Sermon "Skill in Your Hand & God in Your Heart"

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Without Christ

"When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.” Luke 2:15-16 

     As we approach Christmas, I fondly reflect on my childhood memories of the holidays. I can think back to my earliest recollection of Christmas. Momma had told me to go on to bed so I could get ready for Santa Clause “to walk”, as they used to call it. I remember lying on the very edge of my twin bed so I could see down to the hallway at the sparkling lights on our tree. Every other light in the house was off, and the tree was really glowing. The combination of the lights, the smell of our live tree that daddy brought off the farm, and the nervous anticipation of waiting for Santa Clause was one of the most magical feelings I have ever experienced. The only problem was, for me at that time…there was no Christ in my Christmas. Sure I had heard the story of the Baby Jesus in the manger; even heard Linus on the Charlie Brown Christmas cartoon tell the story from the Book of Luke. But Jesus was not the focus of my festivities. There was Santa Clause, a tree, gifts, food, and family…but no Christ. 

     Is it possible to have Christmas without Christ? I mean apart from the name; obviously you can’t spell the word Christmas without the name Christ. But I mean the event…the celebration…the holiday. Can you have Christmas without Christ as the focus? As ludicrous as the question sounds, if you stand back and look at our society, it looks like that’s exactly what people are attempting to do. We pile up gifts and food and festivities and shopping and…more food and days off from work so high that it’s hard to find Christ in Christmas. Now it’s the politically correct thing to say “Happy Holidays”, instead of “Merry Christmas” so as to not offend non-Christians. Heaven forbid we honor what actually is Christ-Mas!
     So it’s makes me wonder how many people could care less whether He came or not; whether they have a Christ for Christmas or not. So what if he didn’t come? What if the shepherds found an empty manger? They would have just gone back to their flock of sheep; but would it make a difference in your life?

     Well, whether it would matter to you or not, and I hope it does, it would make all the difference to the whole world. A Christmas without Christ would mean that the Bible  is false and the world would be lost. Which is why I am glad that the manger was not empty. There, born on that day in the City of David, was Christ the Lord. Our savior was born and He still lives. I have believed Him and received Him, and it has made all the difference for all of eternity.

      I pray that on this year, you won’t be having a Christmas without Christ.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Better Not Skip Leg Day!

I posted something a little while ago about the pushes and the pulls. Remember? I used bodybuilding as a canvas to paint a picture of how we need learn to balance our pulling and our pushing; to not just pull things towards ourselves in a selfish, self-centered manner; but to also think of others and to push towards the needs of those around us. To not always be in a mode of pulling stuff to us that we want, but to sometimes push things away that we don't need. 

Well, I'd like to add to that canvas, and submit to you that in our spiritual workout we not only need to focus on the pushes and the pulls. But we also need to make sure we workout our legs. See, when I was more into weight training, as opposed to the cardio workouts I do now, I always hated leg day. Not sure why. Maybe it was that the workouts were particularly hard for me, or that the recovery was a pain to deal with (some of you are gym rats and know what it's like with your legs being sore and looking like you're walking around on hot coals). Whatever it was, I frequently skipped leg day.

Skipping leg day, physically speaking, only left me with the inability to police-kick a locked door open if I needed to. I seem to be managing life ok with that handicap I suppose. But spiritually speaking, skipping leg day will prove to be much worse for us Christians.

Let's use the news about Phil Robertson from the reality show Duck Dynasty as a backdrop for our conversation. You may not watch the show, but I don't know how you could have gotten out of the bed in the last few months and not at least heard of it. I happen to love the show and love that family's story. I am glad there is at least one show on tv of a family who loves God, and to have something I can watch with my daughters and not have to the hold my finger on the trigger of the remote in case a bad word or nude scene jumps out at us. Now I certainly could not see into Phil Robertson's heart when he quoted the scripture about homosexuality and other sins, so I don't know if there was love in it or hate in it when he quoted the Bible. God will judge that. But what I do know is that...he quoted the Bible. And I believe that the Bible is truth...ALL of the BIBLE! And its truth is not dependent on me or anyone else believing it or accepting it. That's what makes it truth. Opinions fluctuate; truth does not.

I don't know whether or not A&E will allow Phil back on the show, or whether he even wants to. The show seemed to be more of a nuisance to him, and I think he only did it because he couldn't ignore the opportunity to share Jesus with millions of people. Frankly, I am surprised that the show has been on this long being that they end each episode with a prayer to Jesus, or that they show them blasting ducks out of the air with shot guns. Nevertheless, I do believe that all the hoopla about Phil being kicked off the show is something very important for us as Christians. What it is, is a reminder that we better…not…skip…leg day. Though we live in a society that supposedly promotes tolerance of the beliefs and choices of individuals, it is proving to be less and less tolerant of our belief in Christ and our choice to share God's word. So as Christians we need to have strong legs and be prepared to stand. I don't mean to stand up and fight. We don't have to, nor are we called to, defend God's word. It defends itself. But we are called to stand by living it and sharing it and leading others to Christ with it. And as we stand, we stand as Jesus stood; on truth with forgiveness, and grace and love.

So as the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Thessalonica, I encourage you with his words to, “…stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Eyes that See, a Heart that Feels, and Hands that Do.

"Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish." 
John 6:11 (NIV)
When you're riding around, do you look around? Of course you have to keep an eye on the road, but do you really notice what's going on in your community? Sometimes I think we are more knowledgeable of the plight of people in foreign lands than we are of the people right around us. For example, do you know what the poverty rate of your community is? In mine about 27% of families are living below the poverty level. Do you know the leading causes of death in your community? In mine it's cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Ok, so those are stats that you have to research, but if you really open your eyes, there are things you can see. You'll see that marriages are falling apart, kids are dropping out of school, and elderly people are struggling to survive. Yeah, now that you think about it, you see those things and more don't you?

In the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with the two fish and five loaves of bread, the people had a need. They needed food to eat, and Jesus saw that need. He was not so consumed with His own needs or His own schedule or His own notoriety that He could not see it. But He didn't just see it; He felt something about it. He had compassion about their situation. And...He didn't just feel something about it; He did something about. The disciples suggested that they send the people away so they could get their own food. But Jesus said the people would stay and they would feed them. Of course you know the story, he took the two fish and five loaves of bread, He blessed it, He broke it, and He fed the thousands of people with it. That's because Jesus has eyes that see, a heart that feels, and hands that do. How about you?

What will you do about the needs you see around you? You might be thinking that you don't have much, and what little you have won't make a difference. Well, the little boy who gave his fish and bread over to Jesus probably thought the same thing at first. You will find that your little can become a lot in the hands of God. But you have to have eyes that see, a heart that feels, and hands that do.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Pushes and the Pulls

"I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14
During his prime, Arnold Schwarzenegger was credited with having the most perfect body. Some would even argue that no one else has ever topped his accomplishments in sculpting the human physique through bodybuilding. He wasn't so great because he was so big. Certainly there have been some before and plenty since his professional career who are much bigger. Instead,  his accomplishment and reason for winning 7 Mr Olympia titles was the fact that he was so symmetrical and well-proportioned. And because of that, he became the standard.

So, its no wonder that when I first got interested in exercise and weight training years ago, I turned to Arnold for advice. I came across his book, now seen as the bible of bodybuilding, called the "Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding". Two things I liked about it was: 1) it was easy to read, and 2) it had pictures. Now, I can follow a book like that. In it, he broke all of the muscles down in two groups, push muscles and pull muscles. Think about it...God gave us muscles that either can pull things towards us or push things away. Biceps (front-upper arm) pull, triceps (back-upper arm) push; pectorals (chest) push, latissimus (back) pull, quadriceps (front thigh) push; hamstrings (rear thigh) pull;  you get the picture. So to reach optimal form in bodybuilding, you need to equally train both the pushes and the pulls. 

I think we'd also do well in our spiritual lives if we took a cue from Arnold. If we all really examine ourselves, we'll realize that our pull muscles are much bigger than our push muscles. We do a lot more pulling than we do pushing. If we could sit and review the tape from just one day of our thoughts, words, actions, and feelings, we'd see that we are consumed with ourselves. What we get, what we are given, what people say to us, how people look at us, the titles we're bestowed, the money we accumulate, the fame we achieve, and so on. Always a constant motion of pulling towards ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we need things for ourselves, both materially, emotionally and spiritually. But if pulling is all we do, our lives would be as unbalanced as our bodies would look if we did that in a gym. 

Just examine the example Jesus set for us. He created all and could have had everything, but while He was here on earth, He pushed material things away and lived a humble if not poor life. Often when He healed people and they set out to spread the word about it, He pushed away the accolades and asked that they not share it with anyone because the time was not right. Satan even took Him up to the peak of a mountain to show Him all the kingdoms of the world which he offered to give to Him in exchange for His worship. Yet Jesus shoved it away and said "“Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’ ” (Matthew 4:10 NIV) 

If your life seems too hard, then maybe you need to build up your push muscles. Start by pushing away the things the Bible says are not good for you; then the things that get between you and God. Then you'll find yourself getting stronger and stronger. Before you know it, you, like the Apostle Paul, will be able to say "I PRESS towards the mark of the prize of the high calling which in Christ Jesus."